New Brunswick’s Court of Appeal has overturned Dennis Oland‘s conviction for the second-degree murder of his millionaire father, and ordered a new trial.
Oland showed no immediate reaction, but his wife Lisa Oland gasped as she held hands with Dennis’s mother Connie. Both women were in tears.
The appeal court rejected Oland’s claim that the verdict was unreasonable, but found the trial judge did not properly instruct the jury on evidence around the jacket Oland was wearing the day of the murder.
“His instructions on a key piece of the evidentiary puzzle are fundamentally flawed,” said Chief Justice Ernest Drapeau.
Oland told police he was wearing a navy blazer, but later admitted he was wearing a brown Hugo Boss jacket. The Crown portrayed the statement as an intentional lie, while the defence and Oland himself said it was an honest mistake.
WATCH: Dennis Oland granted new trial in the murder of his father. Ross Lord explains
The brown jacket was later found to have minuscule blood stains and DNA matching the profile of Oland’s 69-year-old father, Richard, who was found bludgeoned to death in his Saint John office on July 7, 2011.
“Significantly, the trial judge did not instruct the jurors that even if they found the appellant’s erroneous statement was a lie, it had no probative value unless they concluded on the basis of other evidence independent of that finding, that the lie was fabricated or concocted to conceal his involvement in the murder of his father,” Drapeau said.
“The jurors might well have found the appellant lied about the jacket he was wearing and, in the closing moments of their deliberations, distilled from that their finding the clinching element for their verdict,” he said.
“We are therefore compelled to quash the conviction and order a new trial.”
The court’s decision came in a packed courtroom Monday, with the public seating full more than an hour ahead of the ruling. Many of Oland’s family were in attendance, including Derek Oland, Richard’s brother.
“I am very pleased,” Derek Oland, the executive chairman of Moosehead Breweries Ltd., said in a statement after the ruling. “We continue to believe Dennis is innocent.”
Outside court, Oland’s wife grinned broadly when asked how she felt. Larry Cain, a family friend, said the ruling was good news. “We’re very happy,” he added.
Dennis sat at the back of the courtroom, wearing a black pin-striped suit and flanked by two sheriff’s deputies.
The financial planner and scion of one of the Maritimes’ most prominent families – the Olands founded Moosehead in 1867 – had been convicted by a jury in December and sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for at least 10 years.
Drapeau said the three-judge panel was unable to come up with “a comprehensive set of reasons for our decision” during deliberations over the weekend, and instead delivered only a summary.
The decision was unanimous.
“We would expect any new trial would be considerably shorter than the first one,” said Drapeau.
A bail hearing for Oland has been scheduled for Tuesday morning.
Oland’s lawyer, Alan Gold said he hoped his client would soon be granted bail and released from custody.
The appeal decision comes a week ahead of a scheduled hearing before the Supreme Court of Canada on an application for bail pending the outcome of the appeal. Two lower courts had already denied bail for Oland.
Gold said the Supreme Court hearing will still proceed despite Tuesday’s ruling.
“In a technical sense it no longer applies, but legally it does apply because the test for bail pending a new trial is the same as pending appeal, and as well, the Supreme Court does wish to decide areas of law that are difficult, that are never decided, and that will only rarely come before them,” Gold said.